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Close to a million veterans still waiting for disability payments.....

Posted by on Sep. 21, 2012 at 9:06 AM
  • 19 Replies

This pisses me right the hell off. My dad is a veteran, and he depends on his disability. These men and women fought for this country. They shouldn't have to stand around waiting for Congress to get its collective head out of its collective ass and put this bill on Obama's desk. Stop playing politics! Enough already!


825,000 veterans await disability payments, inquiry finds

September 21, 2012 12:25 am
Veteran Matt Hannan at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland. Mr. Hannan served with the Marines for 15 years and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

For more than two years, a former Marine gunnery sergeant from New Kensington has waited for a ruling on whether he is entitled to disability payments for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Matt Hannan, 35, said he filed the claim with the Veterans Benefits Administration before he was medically discharged in 2010, following 15 years of service and two tours of duty in Iraq.

"Every time I try to get an answer, I get no answer," he said.

Mr. Hannan is one of nearly 825,000 veterans nationwide stymied by a bureaucratic backlog that has delayed payments for war-related disabilities, according to a national analysis by the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Pittsburgh is one of the slowest regional offices in the country, ranking 44th out of 58 in early September, according to further analysis by PublicSource. More than 11,000 claims were pending and the average wait was nearly 10 months. Nationally, the wait time is more than eight months, and appeals can add years to the delays.

President Barack Obama pledged in August 2009 to cut the backlog, and his administration has increased spending on staff and operations. Still, the wait times lengthen.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has criticized the Obama administration for failure to fix the backlog and stated that he would be an advocate for veterans.

"We're not happy where we are right now," said Jennifer Stone-Barash, Pittsburgh regional director for the Veterans Benefits Administration. "No one at the VA is. We understand what we're doing now is not meeting the needs of veterans across the country."

More and tougher claims
PG graphic: Pending VA claims
(Click image for larger version)

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays veterans $123 to $2,673 a month, tax-free, for injuries and illnesses sustained in military service.

The number of claims doubled from 2008 to 2012, in part because of injured veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The number of issues per claim also has increased, as field hospitals save more soldiers, research links more illnesses to warfare and courts order more-inclusive coverage.

VA procedures can be bewildering to men and women transitioning from a warrior culture to civilian life as they look for housing, apply for jobs and enroll in college classes.

"They get a 30-page document and a month to respond," said Dave Parkinson, a veterans service officer for Paralyzed Veterans of America. He was not authorized to speak for PVA and based his comments on his experience. "They need their hands held in dealing with the bureaucracy."

Mr. Parkinson's organization is one of several that guide veterans through the process. He tries to spotlight overlooked cases. "I can tell them that this is a hardship case and he needs the extra $30. It takes five minutes vs. five months."

Matt's story

"There are people worse off than me," Mr. Hannan said to explain why he has stopped asking about his pending claims.

He is rated 80 percent disabled and receives $1,400 a month.

Mr. Hannan signed up for the Marines in 1995, after graduating from Highlands High School in Natrona Heights.

His mission in Iraq was to analyze information about "high value" targets. Occasionally he went on raids with the teams that used his analysis to kill or capture the enemy.

He said he has suffered several concussions, before and during military service. He also accumulated stress injuries to his back, legs and arms, the primary reason for his medical discharge in 2010.

"I can't walk long distances and I can't do hills," he said. "When I can't feel my feet, I stumble."

He said he cited PTSD in his original claim for back and leg injuries, while stationed in North Carolina. Later, after tests showed damage that could explain his cluster headaches, he added traumatic brain injury.

He said the VA granted his basic claim but never ruled on PTSD or traumatic brain injury. When he asked, he recalled, he was told the claims were pending.

There is no record of a claim for PTSD or traumatic brain injury in Mr. Hannan's file, which is still in Winston-Salem, N.C., Pittsburgh spokeswoman Patricia Kopa said.

"I can't remember who I talked to," Mr. Hannan said. "It seems like it's a different person every time."

They probably were different people every time.

Claims agents seldom talk with the veterans. In fact, the Pittsburgh telephone number is not listed, and calls are answered by the first available agent in eight toll-free call centers.

However, after a call from PublicSource, the Pittsburgh VA recently contacted Mr. Hannan and said the agency would look into his claim, even though the North Carolina office said it could not find it. The VA also asked him whether he knew of other veterans waiting for responses to their claims.

Pittsburgh region
PublicSourcelogo The Post-Gazette is a news partner of PUBLICSOURCE, a nonprofit investigative news group in Western Pennsylvania.
Learn more at publicsource.org

Ten years ago, Mr. Parkinson said, the Pittsburgh office cleared claims so quickly that it took on work from other regions. That changed in 2003, when claims from veterans who live in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia were assigned to Pittsburgh. Now they account for almost a third of the workload.

Pittsburgh has 113 claims agents serving more than 364,000 veterans in Western and Central Pennsylvania, the West Virginia Panhandle and overseas.

Mr. Parkinson said he believes the VA did not provide enough staff to handle the extra cases.

Eric Shinseki, the U.S. secretary of veterans affairs, has set a goal by 2015 of processing all disability claims within 125 days. A tour of the VA office in Pittsburgh revealed the magnitude of the task. Filing cabinets fill every niche, and boxes of files are stacked on top of the cabinets.

The VA strategy is to streamline the process by going paperless, encouraging veterans to file claims electronically, adding staff and using simpler forms.

Quality of life

Mr. Hannan is quick to point out that the VA has helped him in many ways.

Although his PTSD and traumatic brain disorder claims have not been approved -- and the VA can find no record of them -- he said he receives medical treatments for the injuries. He said the VA hospital in Aspinwall gives him better treatment than he got in Winston-Salem.

Thanks to the GI Bill education benefit, he studies engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, and the VA has arranged an internship at the Human Engineering Research Lab.

Even with a small extra payment, he said, "I feel the VA could make the quality of my life better."

Bill Heltzel: bheltzel@publicsource.org or at 412-315-0265.
First Published September 21, 2012 12:00 am


by on Sep. 21, 2012 at 9:06 AM
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Replies (1-10):
Sisteract
by Whoopie on Sep. 21, 2012 at 11:07 AM
2 moms liked this

Unconscionable. It's alll about the $$.The veterans, as members of the  enslaved 47%, should be prepared for deep cuts should MR get elected.

Aislinn
by Silver Member on Sep. 21, 2012 at 11:09 AM
2 moms liked this

 But, if you say you are a drug addict, you will get your SS check, first try... This country is so fucked up.

cjsbmom
by Lois Lane on Sep. 21, 2012 at 11:15 AM
1 mom liked this


Quoting Sisteract:

Unconscionable. It's alll about the $$.The veterans, as members of the  enslaved 47%, should be prepared for deep cuts should MR get elected.

I agree. Like someone joked yesterday, he'll be finding a way to outsource our military. That's only half funny because it's probably mostly true.....


GotSomeKids
by Silver Member on Sep. 21, 2012 at 11:40 AM

The last four years have already brought on DEEP cuts and they are going to get worse regardless of who is elected.  Don't even get started on the move to part time doctors at our clinic.

Quoting Sisteract:

Unconscionable. It's alll about the $$.The veterans, as members of the  enslaved 47%, should be prepared for deep cuts should MR get elected.


JoshRachelsMAMA
by JRM on Sep. 21, 2012 at 11:41 AM
Exactly

Quoting Aislinn:

 But, if you say you are a drug addict, you will get your SS check, first try... This country is so fucked up.

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cjsbmom
by Lois Lane on Sep. 21, 2012 at 11:44 AM

True. Every time I take my dad to the VA, I get depressed when I see the lines of military men and women waiting for treatment or trying to get help for why they aren't being given their benefits. :(

Quoting GotSomeKids:

The last four years have already brought on DEEP cuts and they are going to get worse regardless of who is elected.  Don't even get started on the move to part time doctors at our clinic.

Quoting Sisteract:

Unconscionable. It's alll about the $$.The veterans, as members of the  enslaved 47%, should be prepared for deep cuts should MR get elected.




Peanutx3
by on Sep. 21, 2012 at 12:05 PM

This is unacceptable.

GotSomeKids
by Silver Member on Sep. 21, 2012 at 12:22 PM

I am a disabled vet and I am only covered for 6 (count it).......6 things.  Oddly enough, three of them are not covered by Tri-care, so it sort of works out for me.  But, the clinic we take the kids to, it takes weeks to get in for a 15 min appointment.  About 3 years ago, I had to wait 59,  yes 59 days for a pap-smear.  Until I switched clinics, it use to take me on average 4-8 weeks to get the nurse to give me lab results, because they had one nurse servicing the entire endo clinic.  The sad thing about it was, labs are usually back within 2-3 days.

I try not to complain, I myself do not know how to fix it.  It's not just about the money.  It's about the system.  If they can't fix the military system, they are not going to get a universal healthcare system to work properly.  I want it to.  I want it to really bad, but I don't see it going into that direction.

:(

Quoting cjsbmom:

True. Every time I take my dad to the VA, I get depressed when I see the lines of military men and women waiting for treatment or trying to get help for why they aren't being given their benefits. :(

Quoting GotSomeKids:

The last four years have already brought on DEEP cuts and they are going to get worse regardless of who is elected.  Don't even get started on the move to part time doctors at our clinic.

Quoting Sisteract:

Unconscionable. It's alll about the $$.The veterans, as members of the  enslaved 47%, should be prepared for deep cuts should MR get elected.




radioheid
by Libertarian on Sep. 21, 2012 at 12:40 PM
2 moms liked this
It took 12 months for VA to approve my claim. I filed in July 2007, was approved in July 2008. During that 12-month wait, I spent 3 months homeless in a veterans' shelter, and several more bouncing from house to house among friends and family, calling VA Regional, hunting for jobs, desperate. I'm now rated 70% and in the application process for the VA's Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation program, which itself can take months for a decision. VA is badly under-staffed and inefficient as a whole. Wait times for appointments can take months. If government is going to send millions off to war, they'd better be prepared to adequately care for the damaged masses that come back. The current system is unacceptable.
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happinessforyou
by Bronze Member on Sep. 21, 2012 at 2:07 PM

I think is all too true-imagine if Congress had to beg for their insurance and paychecks? How about our service men and women get taken care of FIRST?? You know, BEFORE they pay themselves???

And why aren't the current candidates addressing this??????

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